It has taken me a good week now to get to writing this. Gonzaga played for the national title in men's basketball this past Monday against North Carolina, losing late after leading in stretches. It was a brutal outcome. However, it is also an amazing accomplishment for the little Jesuit school from Spokane that is no longer a surprising success.
26 years ago I sat in the old Kennel as a student watching the Zags play Eastern Washington. The GU coach was talking about NCAA tourney appearances, and with the field being 64 with automatic bids it all seemed plausible. By plausible, I mean that it would be plausible for GU to contend for that automatic bid and get crushed annually as a 14 seed.
Within a few years GU did get to the tourney, and now it is a mainstay with multiple Sweet 16 appearances and the 2017 Final Four and championship game appearance.
I don't talk much about that year at GU for reasons. I loved the school, but how that year played out still sometimes causes me to pause and reflect.
Deep down I will always be a Coug first. I played and coached soccer against the Zags. When WSU hosted GU in Pullman for a first round NIT match I was very much a Cougar. Ambition and consistency are not something that mid major programs can easily juggle. But, how the Zags have approached their program is something larger conference teams just don't seem to realize would work anywhere in the power conferences.
So, GU now has the chance to build on this success, even as players move on. Few has seemed to have no problem in recruiting, and now even a childhood friend of my daughter's has signed on to be a freshman next season.
It was surprising to me just how emotional this game made me. Even though I am a Coug first, clearly my brief time at GU did in fact have a profound affect on me.